Food a big draw for Festa Italiana lovers in New Kensington

| Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, 1:11 a.m.

The first day of Festa Italiana in New Kensington was full of kids clutching their stuffed-animal prizes, moms and daughters dancing to music and parents sharing their pasta — making it clear the festival is all about food and family.

Chris Sluka, 53, has been bringing his family to the festival at Mount St. Peter Parish every year for a decade. This is the 33rd year for the festival.

“I come just to spend time with my family and have some good food,” Sluka said. Sluka and his family, who live in New Kensington, are members of the church. His son, Aaron works the 50/50 raffle during the festival.

“It's fun working the booth and meeting all kinds of people,” said Aaron Sluka, 18. “People come here for the atmosphere.”

His sister Megan, 23, loves seeing everyone she knows at the festival.

“It's like one big family,” she said.

And, of course, everyone comes for the food, which is prepared from scratch for two weeks leading up to the event.

“Our signature dish is the lasagna,” said Mary Calvanese, 75, head of the food committee.

She said the church uses a family recipe that's been passed down through the generations.

“That recipe is pretty old,” she said.

Food booths include pizza, meatballs, fried dough, gelato, chicken and vegetable wraps and Italian desserts.

Calvanese said there was a good turnout on the first day of the festival and she hopes the weather holds out for the weekend. “We've had a steady flow of people,” she said.

A couple of thousand people are expected by the end of Saturday, the last day of the festival.

The event raises funds for the church to help cover the cost of improvement projects. Last year, the church used the money to renovate the parking lot.

Scott Foreman, 54, was at the festival with his sister, Susan Ruediger, 58, and his partner, Michael Salerno, 49. He attends the festival every year.

“It's fabulous,” Foreman said. “It's a nice, clean festival.”

Salerno of Natrona Heights applauded the food's authenticity.

“These Italian ladies know how to cook,” he said.

Foreman said he enjoys the tomato basil pizza and the hot sausages.

“It's all good,” he said.

Reudiger of Sarver was a first-time visitor and the festival made a good impression on her.

“I won $10” at bingo, she said.

Darlene Abruzerz, 64, was working the fried dough booth — one of the most popular and cheapest spots to grab a bite to eat.

“It's the best thing for one ticket,” she said.

For Rich Schachte, 54, of New Kensington, this church festival stands out.

“You don't have to be Italian to enjoy it,” he said. “But you do enjoy it because it's Italian.”

New Kensington resident Angie Kelley, 35, has come to the festival her whole life. Now she's passing the tradition on to her two children, Mallory, 5, and Isaac, 10.

“We love it,” she said. “They have great games for the kids.”

Food committee member Ron Frederick, 78, is glad to see the younger generation take an interest in the festival and pass on the tradition.

“That's what we need. We need to keep our heritage going,” he said.

Emily Balser is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at ebalser@tribweb.com.

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